The blood magic holding the Alliance and Horde armies overhead vanished. Bodies dropped to the stone floor, some still frozen but most thawed enough to catch themselves on their hands and feet. Groans and gasps echoed across the platform as the fighters struggled to collect themselves.
Saora’s fingers quivered as the Light faded between them. Her legs buckled, and she would have collapsed if Jaybird had not caught her. She felt so weak, so very empty. The absence of the Light sometimes felt like that, so the priestess knew she would recover. Her trembling hand patted her husband’s arm, and he lowered her to the ground.
Thick fur rubbed against her shoulder. She was so exhausted she couldn’t turn her head. It was the purr that told her what creature had touched her. Endymion pressed against her as he circled to her front, his massive head running along her arm. Purrs from deep in his chest vibrated across Saora’s skin and drew a smile from her parted lips.
“Hey Endy,” she breathed. The panther moaned and huffed a happy greeting. He pressed his cheek against hers and purred louder. Saora lifted a shaking arm and draped it over the cat’s shoulders.
“V?” she asked.
“Here,” the hunter stepped into view, her bow strapped to her back again. “Everyone’s fine.”
“Thanks to us,” Shalvaris poked Verita’s shoulder hard enough to make the commander’s body twist. “Told you we’d keep her safe.”
Verita glared at the other hunter, but Saora saw the laughter gleaming in her friend’s eyes. The priestess blinked, sure the exhaustion was playing tricks on her sight. A slow smile eased its way across Verita’s face and she actually chuckled. Verita never laughed at anything. Saora glanced at Endymion for some sort of explanation. He huffed and rubbed her cheek again, almost like a request to let it go.
Saora giggled and hugged the panther harder, “You’re too smart for your own good.” He purred louder.
“Hey, Verita, Shalvaris wasn’t the only one who kept your friend alive,” Edriaine, still in cat form, padded closer.
“Yeah,” Zapz said, “I’m thinkin’ a reward is in order. How’s about a kiss, toots?”
“No,” Verita and Saora said at the same time.
“Aww, y’all are no fun,” he said but Saora could hear the grin in his words.
Guider’s voice cut above the rest of the noise, “Hold.”
All heads turned toward the open hallway. Saora pressed against Endy’s shoulders, struggling to stand. Strong arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her, effortlessly, to her feet. She smiled up at Jaybird and looked through the crowd of fighters to find Guider standing in front of Varosh Saurfang, his naked sword in his hand. Behind the paladin, several Zodiac mercenaries and Alliance soldiers stared down the orc, held back only by Guider’s outstretched hand.
“Don’t force this, Saurfang,” Guider said.
“Behind you lies the body of my only son. Nothing will keep me from him.”
“Let him through, paladin,” a human warrior from Zodiac sneered.
Kasino stepped up beside Guider, “Back down, Lukee.”
“Greenie, there, has killed more people than just about any other orc alive. Their souls demand justice!”
“I said, back down. That’s an order.”
“We know the Zodiac leader and his bitch queens are barbaric traitors to the King,” a human mage glared at his paladin leader, “but you have always led his armies according to his law, Guider. Varian would demand the head of that creature as payment for his crimes against the Alliance!”
The lines on Guider’s face deepened with fury, “I see no criminal, Simonar. I see a father claiming the body of his son. You will show respect.”
“The king will hear of this!”
“The king already has,” Varian Wrynn’s deep voice thundered across the platform.
The crowd parted, revealing the king of the Alliance. Nearly every human dropped to their knees, followed by many of the other races. Varian walked through them, ignoring the posturing. Saora stared at him, safe in the arms of her husband. Her king was a force of nature, as unpredictable as the Great Sea. It could be calm and gentle, but there was always that threat of unconquerable power, a force of will that not slavery, not torture and not even death could defeat. He stood in front of Kasino and Guider, measuring the two men with his fiery gaze. His eyes found Saora’s and held her standing figure. Her knees quivered. She should kneel. She definitely should kneel.
Saora took a step forward, drawing her staff from her back. Jaybird tried to hold her at first but let her move away from him and toward the orcs. She stood behind Kasino and Guider, just to the side of Saurfang and his men. She set her staff’s end on the platform to steady herself as she struggled to keep Varian’s gaze. She expected to see fury. Instead, he looked...proud?
Movement beside her drew her gaze to Verita as her friend took stood at her side. There was more movement as others joined them. Soon, most of the army on the platform stood around the orcs, not to contain them, but to protect them, and to support Guider and Kasino. Joy and pride swelled in Saora’s chest. She’d been so sure they would stand against Saurfang or, worse, do nothing. There were a few who held back, Dhaja one of them, but only a few.
Varian’s navy blue eyes danced across the armies in front of him. He squared his shoulders, that look of pride spilling from his eyes to pull his lips back in a wide smile. He gestured at the men in front of him. Guider immediately stepped aside and knelt. Kasino paused for a moment, his jaw clenched, but he moved out of the way. Varian stepped closer to Varosh Saurfang, the look of pride replaced by sorrow.
“I was not at the Wrath Gate, High Overlord,” the king said, “but the soldiers who survived told me much of what happened. Your son fought with honor beside one of our greatest soldiers. He died a hero's death. He deserves a hero's burial. No one will stop you from claiming him. I give my word.”
The old orc’s red eyes watered but his shoulders lifted so he could look the human in the eyes, “...Thank you, Lo’Gosh, King Wrynn. I...I will not forget this...kindness.”
Varian scowled at the orc’s name for him, but nodded and stood aside. The other fighters stepped back to give the father room. Saurfang’s armored feet thudded along the stone, strong and heavy. He reached the corpse at the hallway and knelt. Strong green arms wrapped around the black armor and lifted the Deathbringer’s body effortlessly. Varosh turned to face the armies and Saora saw, for just a moment, the grief painted across the orc’s face.
“Honor, young heroes. No matter how dire the battle, never forsake it.” He looked down at the body in his arms, “You will have a proper ceremony in Nagrand next to the pyres of your mother and ancestors.”
He moved toward the stairwell that lead back to the ground floor of the Citadel. Without a word, the orcs that came with him moved to follow. No one stopped them as they marched across the platform and back into the fortress’ depths.
Varian’s voice cracked through the heavy silence, “The Ebon Blade and I will secure the platform and cut off any reinforcements. The rest of you, prepare for the assault on the upper citadel. Ensure, beyond a doubt, that no one else will fall to this evil, that no more fathers will watch their sons die as slaves. Lead your men well, Guider.”
“Yes, my king,” the paladin said, his voice thick with emotion.
King Wrynn helped him up and the two shook hands. The King turned to Kasino and the two leaders stared at one another. The elf offered his hand. Varian grinned and took it. His eyes slid to the side and found Saora’s. It was only then she realized tears were spilling down her cheeks.
“Young priestess,” the king’s eyes were wide with surprise, “why are you crying?”
She tried to speak. She had to say something, anything. White fur brushed against her leg. Saora’s hand dropped to rest on Rocky’s velvet ears. A strong hand clasped her shoulder and she knew it was Jaybird’s.
He found the words she couldn’t, “She is proud of her king.”
Varian smirked. He moved away from the group to speak with the Ebon Watcher and Tirion Fordring. Jaybird hugged Saora close but the tears continued to fall. For the first time, she watched Varian Wrynn without fear or dread. She saw in him the leader he could be, the good man buried inside him. For the first time, she looked at him and she felt hope.
I have never been a fan of Varian Wrynn. His personality was too aggressive, his hatred too deep. It was all too extreme, even for the atrocities he experienced while an enslaved gladiator. I always wished something horrible would happen to him and his son, Anduin, would have to take over. Since Anduin was pretty much raised by Bolivar, I figured the boy would have a better sense of honor and fair play. Granted, he was only a teen at the time of Icecrown Citadel, but Wrynn was such a disappointment as a human figurehead. And then he let Varosh claim his son's body. In game, the conversation felt like more of a struggle for the king, as if he were fighting his hatred while trying to do the right thing. Still, it was a vast improvement and Saora's reaction mimics not only Jaina Proudmoore's reaction but mine as well. I'd never wanted to be a human character because of their king. In that moment, I was proud that Verita and I were part of the Alliance. Great storytelling from Blizzard.